GH Hardy,the British mathematician, once wrote: “A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”
However, many will rebuke this statement.
GH Hardy, at the time of writing this, had no clear understanding of abstract art; his world revolved around mathematics and Trinity College Cambridge.
Abstact art gained prominence in the 1940s – just the time he started writing his famous book, “A Mathematician’s Apology.”
Jackson Pollock, the famous abstract artist, wrote: “When I say artist, I mean the man who is building things – creating, molding the earth – whether it be the plains of the west – or The Iron Ore of Penn (Pennsylvania).
It’s all a big game of construction – some with a brush – some with a shovel – some choose a pen.”…he went on to say of the modern painter that…”The modern artist…is working and expressing an inner world – in other words – expressing the energy, motion, and the other inner forces.”
To a certain degree, I believe this applies to mathematics as well – in that the mathematician is also expressing an inner world.
In fact, I would go further, and say that the artist is a ‘connoiseur’ of beauty – especially the abstract artist; he or she paints things deeply embedded in the unconscious.
But the similarities end there.
The painter, is in a way, a much happier person than the mathematician. But the mathematician solves very complex and tiresome equations, which brings immense stress, and the answers are seldom straightforward. That is not to say that he or she doesn’t take great pleasure in solving the equations, rather it is a challenge that every good mathematician relishes. But to the mathematician, equations are also a form of beauty.
The painter has a mass audience to show his work – and be admired; the mathematician doesn’t have an audience, only other aspiring mathematicians. And even if he did, they would not have a clue as to what it all means, or its relevance to anything.
The tragedy being, that while the painter is rewarded with abundance of wealth and fame, the mathematician is not.
The universe of the mathematician and the artist is an ‘enigma’ that is seldom witnessed; it is a place of infinite possibilities which only a privileged few have observed. It solves problems through the use of ‘abstraction’ and ‘logic’: calculating, counting, measuring, and the study of shapes and motions of physical objects.
But mathematics is not just pure mathematics, it’s also applied maths, and its ‘tentacles’ reach far and wide: from natural science, engineering, medicine, finance, and the social sciences.
Pure mathematics’ greatest ‘architect’, Ramanujan, was seduced by this world, and made it his life-long ambition to master it; he was so taken in that his wife had to place the food in his mouth to feed him, as he was too busy mastering complex equations.
By Ramanujan’s unequivecol commitment, we begin to understand the ‘hold’ mathematics has over its loyal ‘disciples’, and how it resonates through to the modern world, and is just as relevant as it always was.
As I write this article, Professor Michael Green, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, shares the $3m Fundamental Physics Prize, along with fellow theorist John Schwarz.
So it seems that mathematicians are finally being rewarded, and gaining recognition for the important contrinutions they make.
Great mathematicians are a very rare breed; they appear ‘once in a blue moon’. But when they honor us with their presence, our universe – and the field of mathematics – undergoes a paradigm shift.
Mathematics will never fizzle out. It is just as relevant and prevalent to our world…going on to infinity. And as long as humanity continues to progress and evolve, we will always require this most ancient of tools, which has the power to change and enrich our lives.
Shahrokh Sharifrazy is A trained mathematician from the University of London..Shahrokh has been an accomplished teacher of Mathematics for a long time and is now full time journalist. He originally hails from Iran.
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